Ready for a custom house? You might not be able to buy one

By RICHARD MIZE – Homebuilders are turning away customers — for custom-built homes at least — because of uncertainty surrounding soaring lumber prices.

“We have been hammered by lumber prices,” said Jim Schuff, co-owner of Vesta Homes in Moore and president of the Oklahoma Home Builders Association. “How do you even begin to price a project that will take six months or more to complete?”

He said even some speculative builders — those who build houses to sell with no buyers already under contract — are skittish about starting anything.

He said they wonder: “If you start a spec home today and price it where it should be when you get it complete, will it appraise? What will the economy be like at that time?”

The price increase is adding thousands of dollars to the cost of a new home, “pricing out millions of potential homebuyers,” and keeping homebuilding from helping heal the coronavirus-slammed economy, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

“According to (a trade publication) Random Lengths, the price of lumber hit a record high (last week) and is up more than 170 percent over the past 10 months,” said the association’s chairman, Chuck Fowke, a custom home builder in Tampa, Florida. “NAHB is urging President Biden and Congress to help mitigate this growing threat to housing and the economy by urging domestic lumber producers to ramp up production to ease growing shortages and to make it a priority to end tariffs on Canadian lumber shipments into the U.S. that are exacerbating unprecedented price volatility in the lumber market.”

Fowke added, “Clearly these price increases are unsustainable, particularly in light of a continued housing affordability crisis. Given this ongoing period of high demand, the Commerce Department should be investigating why output from lumber producers and lumber mills are at such low levels.”

Builders everywhere putting starts on hold, exacerbating the shortage of inventory, the NAHB said. The local market ended 2020 with a 30-day supply of houses listed for sale, according to the Oklahoma City Metro Association of Realtors. By the end of January, the inventory had fallen to about a 24-day supply.

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